Reality-check for PISA

Nieuws | de redactie
23 februari 2012 | The PISA-acronym is a household name for comparing student learning outcomes. But do OECD-countries actually use these outcomes in their policy making?

A recent working paper the OECD takes a close look atthe way its own comparative data are being taken up by policymakers in the OECD-countries: is PISA still causing the ‘shock and awe’ it didin Germany in 2000?

Every three years, the PISA results stimulate a globaldiscussion about school reform in both international media and atthe national level across many OECD and partner countries.

PISA shock

In Germany, the education policy debate and changes have beenintense. Confronted with lower-than-expected results in studentperformance, PISA triggered a sustained public debate abouteducation policy and reform that came to be known as ‘PISAshock’.

The PISA-inspired debate over public education has resulted in arange of significant reform measures, including generating nationalstandards and establishing further support for disadvantagedstudents, especially those from immigrant backgrounds.

A similar reaction to PISA 2000 occurred in Denmark, where thedata raised serious questions about how the well-funded Danisheducation system yielded only middle-range outcomes, and about whysocial equity continued to be a problem despite significantinvestment in social welfare programmes.


Countries that have demonstrated the most substantial policyresponses to PISA included those that perform above, at and belowthe OECD average. Overall, PISA seems to have become accepted bypolicy-makers as a valid and reliable instrument forinternationally benchmarking current system performance and therelative changes in outcomes.

There is also evidence that PISA has been embedded as anexternal global standard for setting system goals and evaluatingsystem progress. A substantial number of countries have setPISA-based national performance targets. These policy targets oftendefine measurable system goals in terms of relative rank orabsolute PISA score.

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